Small, but playing big: Holcomb's 5-4 Pfeifer is player of year.
By KEVIN THOMPSON
At barely 5-4, she seems a diminutive figure.
But put her on a basketball floor, and Holcomb senior Katie Pfeifer can appear larger than life.
Pfeifer — The Telegram's girls basketball player of the year — a point guard, saw her share of wins and accomplishments in four years of varsity play.
She knows all about setting goals and attaining most of them. But the one that always eluded her and her teammates might be the most disappointing of all, but in retrospect, it might just have made her all that much stronger.
With the switch from head coach Kelley Snodgrass, who left to coach in Dodge City, to Kenton Tennal, the transition could have hurt most teams, but not Holcomb. The Longhorns were as much of a force to face this year as they were last season.
Pfeifer has been playing basketball since she can remember, following her father to the gymnasium as he coached his own team, and watching her older brother as he played.
"I was actually too little to even know how to dribble," she remembers.
But she worked on her game over time, including lifting weights, working on shooting, and trying to become faster, as well as improving her ball-handling skills.
Against her brothers — one of whom is taller, and the younger, who will be taller soon enough — Pfeifer has taken them on in the gym and on the driveway. Because of her size disadvantage against them, she had to find ways to score, and shooting from outside became a necessity.
It also became the weapon for which she is known in the area, hitting 69 three-pointers for the season, at a 41-percent clip.
She also led the team in points (14 per game), assists (5.0), steals (3.1), and 2-point percentage (63 percent), and she finished second in free-throw percentage (71 percent).
As a freshman, she remembers, she scored four 3-pointers in a game once because it worked into the offense that way. That got her started shooting even more, especially since she was smaller and found other shots closer to the basket were harder to get.
In middle school, she recalls, she attempted just one from that range in two years. Her teams were fast-break layup oriented then.
She became an outside shooting specialist naturally, and she had a lot of time to develop in game situations.
Pfeifer got to start as a freshman a few weeks into that season and never relinquished the spot her final three years.
She, Kyshia Prieto and Karissa Pena saw a lot of action their sophomore year, and after those seniors left, they stepped naturally into the role of leader. For those next two years, they stepped up to mentor the younger players, basically becoming seniors for two years.
This year, leadership by example meant helping players adjust to a coaching change.
"It was a lot different at first, so we had to stay positive and make sure we did what our coach told us and not questioning it, so younger players wouldn't question it," Pfeifer said.
Leadership by words meant holding coach-less team meetings to help the team bond.
Both roles meant helping set team goals then working to achieve them.
Winning the league, the sub-state title, and state were all attainable for this year's squad, especially after getting to state last year and losing nobody — except the coach.
They managed to get the first two, but they couldn't get past the first round of state again.
In the sub-state game, Holcomb faced undefeated and second-ranked Cimarron. It wasn't easy, but it was a team effort, just as the rest of the season had been, Pfeifer said.
"We started off shaky, but then we started executing the game plan the coaches told us to do," she said. "We know we're a good team offensively, so we didn't talk much about that. We just tried to tighten up our defense."
In that game, Pfeifer went scoreless in the first half, but she ended the game with 22 points.
"I knew it could be my last game. I didn't want it to be, but I knew it might be," she said. "The first half I was a little too passive, but I was more aggressive in the second half."
Riding that momentum, Holcomb headed to state, where they fell to Hillsboro in the opening round. In the end, Pfeifer said, it was probably Holcomb's lack of depth and size that worked against them.
Looking back at the season, Pfeifer said the team had a really good year. Everyone adjusted well to the coaching change. The season just didn't end as they wanted.
"I'm proud of my team and proud of our coach," she said.
Pfeifer said coach Snodgrass taught the girls how to be fundamentally sound, especially with rebounding, defense, and taking care of the ball.
All that carried over into this season, as Tennal didn't have to teach basketball. Instead, he boosted the girls' confidence in their shooting.
"We were a better shooting team this year, and we were able to use our defense from last year," she said. "We got the best of both of them."
Pfeifer hopes to take her love of the game to the next level, but she hasn't decided on a college just yet.
Her drive, determination and consistency have developed over the years, and that is something she will take to next level, and into her studies, as she plans to pursue an accounting degree.